Potassium Offsets Salt-Induced Cardiovascular Distress

July 3, 2013 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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Potassium Offsets Salt-Induced Cardiovascular Distress
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Potassium is highly concentrated in your cells, whereas sodium (salt) is concentrated between your cells. New science shows that a lack of potassium is a primary reason why salt can cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage. This is especially important in the summer when higher heat can aggravate a potassium deficiency.

Potassium is the most important positive ion (cation) within your cells. Your cells have an ion pump that pumps two potassium ions into a cell, while pumping three sodium ions out. In this way, cells maintain a proper electrical charge, which is essential for proper fluid and electrolyte balance in your body. The normal concentration of potassium within cells is especially important to your nervous system and is needed for normal nerve transmission.

Potassium is high in foods such as bananas, oranges, cantaloupes, tomatoes, potatoes, legumes, and garlic. Other good sources include most fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and dairy. A problem for many Americans is excessive intake of salt in comparison to potassium intake, thereby creating a relative potassium deficiency. Additionally, dietary surveys of Americans age 60-80 show their diets to be lacking in potassium1.

Lack of potassium manifests as nerve, muscle, and fluid problems. Irritability is common and occurs in combination with impaired muscle function. In milder cases, this is simply muscle weakness. In more significant deficiencies, coordination is reduced and muscle cramps may occur, along with more noticeable muscle fatigue. Irregular heart beats and even cardiac arrhythmia can be caused by a lack of potassium. Swelling and fluid retention -- from milder cases of ring tightness to more advanced cases of high blood pressure -- is another common sign of potassium deficiency.

Ironically, the diuretics often given by doctors to lower blood pressure by removing excess water and salt also have the undesired side effect of stripping away potassium — which actually increases cardiovascular distress.

Sodium intake in and of itself is not a health problem as long as you are healthy. Indeed, healthy kidneys can readily handle huge fluctuations in salt intake. However, once a person starts gaining excess weight, the kidneys enter into a state of stress and have difficulties processing the large amount of sodium naturally passing through them every day.

New science shows that potassium2 can help offset many of the adverse changes of salt by lowering blood pressure and stabilizing nerve transmission, which can help reduce cardiac arrhythmia. It even helps improve insulin resistance caused by excess salt intake. Its effect on nerves is relaxing in nature, even though it is needed for all nerve transmission. This latest scientific research shows that proper potassium balance also works as an antioxidant in all key areas.

Like magnesium and calcium, potassium is a mineral that helps buffer stress and maintain proper pH in the body. When any of these important minerals are lacking, your pH can become too acidic and your body will slip into an unhealthy zone. Since potassium problems are more noticeable in heat or during intense exercise, ensuring potassium adequacy in the summer months is a good idea for everyone. This is why many people gravitate toward extra fresh fruit in the summer. You also need salt, but not in excess. And in many cases, especially if you struggle with symptoms of potassium deficiency, supplemental potassium can be a real help.

Referenced Studies

  1. ^ Elderly Lack Dietary Potassium and Other Nutrients  J Nutr Health Aging.  Anderson JJ, Suchindran CM, Roggenkamp KJ.
  2. ^ Potassium Offsets Salt-Induced Cardiovascular Damage  Curr Vasc Pharmacol.  Ando K, Matsui H, Fujita M, Fujita T.

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